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NIJ and the National Museum of Health and Medicine: Understanding the Ecology of Human Decomposition Methods for Estimating Postmortem Interval

NCJ Number
Date Published
2 pages

This brief report describes the development and benefits of the American Registry of Pathology's development of a novel baseline dataset of bacterial communities and physicochemical parameters associated with human decomposition.


Under this project, which was funded with a grant from the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Dr. Franklin Damann, who is the anatomical curator at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, collaborated with the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and the University of Tennessee Anthropology Research Facility. The dataset created a new understanding of human microbial ecology and grave-soil characteristics in relation to human decomposition. The microbial diversity pf grave-soil and bone were detected in a greater magnitude than was previously possible, which facilitates the measurement of advancing time and skeletal decay. This information is essential in developing new models for estimating postmortem interval based on the succession of microbial communities. A graph is presented to show the distribution of 124,164 classified sequences at the bacterial phyla level from human bones. Results from a bacterial community analysis suggest a consistency in the presence of specific bacterial phyla across all bone samples. 1 figure and a listing of 4 relevant publications

Date Published: January 1, 2015